By Kristy Siegfried | 9 April, 2020
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Coronavirus fears come on top of food shortages for refugees in parts of Africa. Al Jazeera reports that hunger looms as perhaps an even greater threat than the coronavirus pandemic for South Sudanese refugees living in Ugandan refugee settlements. Lack of funding for its programmes in East and Central Africa has forced the World Food Programme to announce a 30 per cent reduction in food rations for refugees in Uganda starting on 1 April. According to UNHCR, 60 per cent of refugees in the East, Horn and Great Lakes region of Africa are experiencing food ration cuts due to underfunding. The cuts come as Uganda and other countries in the region implement stay-at-home measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 that have severely restricted refugees’ ability to work and generate an income. UNHCR said it was advocating with governments to ensure refugees are included in any emergency social protection schemes. The agency is also ramping up efforts to limit the potential spread of the virus in refugee communities through awareness campaigns, increased distributions of water and soap, and the provision of new shelters to ease overcrowding.
More hardships for Venezuelans amid coronavirus lockdowns across Latin America. As countries from Argentina to Colombia lock down to slow the spread of the coronavirus, many Venezuelan refugees and migrants working in the informal economy have lost their jobs and ability to pay rent. Families are now being evicted from their homes and the number of Venezuelans living on the streets in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina is increasing by the day. Rather than face hunger and homelessness in host countries, the Washington Post reports that some are opting to travel back to Venezuela to be with their families. Colombia closed its border with Venezuela last month but has kept open a humanitarian corridor for returnees. According to authorities in Venezuela’s border state of Tachira, nearly 2,500 people had crossed the border by Tuesday – a relatively small number compared to the scale of recent outflows from Venezuela, which averaged 4,000 to 5,000 a day before the pandemic.
NGO rescue ship seeks port for 150 rescued people. A ship operated by the German NGO Sea-Eye is seeking a safe port to disembark 150 people its crew rescued from two boats off the coast of Libya on Monday. The Alan Kurdi, which is currently the only NGO ship operating in the Central Mediterranean, rescued 68 people from an overcrowded wooden boat on Monday morning. During the rescue, a Libyan-flagged vessel approached and fired shots into the air, according to Sea-Eye, which said many people jumped from the wooden boat in panic and attempted to swim towards the Alan Kurdi. The crew rescued 82 people from a second boat later the same day. The Alan Kurdi remains in international waters off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. The Italian government issued a decree late on Tuesday stating that its ports could not be considered safe because of the coronavirus pandemic and that non-national rescue boats would not be authorized to dock there until the emergency was over. Malta has also said it would not allow rescue ships to dock. Sea-Eye is now appealing to Germany, the ship’s flag state, to take in the refugees and migrants.
STORIES TO WATCH
Relocations of unaccompanied children from Greece to begin. Germany will take in up to 500 unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors from Greek camps over the coming weeks, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday, while urging other EU countries to follow suit. The German cabinet has agreed to accept an initial group of 50 children from overcrowded reception centres on the Greek islands of Lesvos and Chios, with transfers expected to begin next week. A dozen children are expected to be transferred from Greece to Luxembourg at the same time. Ten European countries agreed to participate in a programme announced in early March to take in up to 1,600 vulnerable minors from Greek camps. However, most countries have yet to take any concrete action, with border restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic complicating efforts.
Saudi-led coalition declares ceasefire in Yemen amid coronavirus fears. Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday that the kingdom and its allies would halt their military operations in Yemen starting at noon on Thursday in an effort to stave off the spread of the coronavirus. Although no coronavirus cases have so far been reported in Yemen, aid workers warn that the country’s badly damaged health system would struggle to cope with an outbreak. The two-week unilateral ceasefire, which could be extended, follows a recent escalation in fighting between the warring parties in the northern districts of Al-Jouf and Marib which has displaced more than 40,000 people since January. The UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, welcomed the announcement and said it was an opportunity to make progress towards “comprehensive and sustainable peace”.
Countries relax immigration rules for medically trained refugees and migrants. The Guardian reports that several countries are relaxing their immigration rules to allow doctors, nurses and other key workers from refugee and migrant communities to join efforts against the coronavirus. Two US states – New Jersey and New York – have invoked emergency powers to temporarily relax restrictions on foreign medical professionals. In France, health services can now recruit refugees who qualified as doctors, dentists or pharmacists in their home countries. Spain has also announced plans to fast-track the status of 200 foreign-born doctors and nurses, and local authorities in Germany are signing up hundreds of foreign doctors and nurses who don’t yet have licenses to practice. Meanwhile, authorities in Argentina and Colombia are preparing to tap into the large pool of medical professionals who have fled Venezuela.
The Olympic Games may be postponed, but refugee athletes haven’t stopped training. They know how staying active can help in a crisis.
DID YOU KNOW?
Burkina Faso is currently the world’s fastest-growing displacement crisis, with close to 840,000 people displaced by conflict and drought in the last 16 months, including nearly 60,000 who were forced from their homes in March.